September 14th

The recent rehearsal was confined to the first two parts of what we regard as the first Act, which consists of an introductory scene and the first and second scenes proper of the play. We are now all more or less off book — some rather less than more and some rather more than less: I’m more or less in the middle somewhere, I more or less think.

Being off book means that we can pay more attention to quick changes within scenes, and transitions between scenes (and these transitions are very important in this play). It also means that we can think more readily about where characters are in scenes, and about where characters move in relation to one another within scenes.

There is no director for this play: we are all trying hard to be more or less democratic (a bit difficult for me, at least) and we are all proposing and discussing possibilities, but since Walter has only one very small part in the first scene (proper) of this Act, he took the role of director this time and made some very good suggestions. A director should be in many ways an eye, who can tell actors what their activity on stage looks like and make suggestions so that what they are doing may become dramatically and theatrically more effective. Dramatic interpretation is first of all the articulation in space of what is adumbrated in the text.

Another problem for the actor is getting inside the character, or letting the character get inside her or him. This is not a simple process and sinking into a character, or letting a character sink into you, takes time. You tend to start off with a fairly general idea, which is fine — you need that — but then, over time, you discover all sorts of details; this is why rehearsal is so important — it gives you the time to discover; for preparing a play for performance is not a matter of doing only as much as you need to do to fit the template of some pre-conceived notion about the play: that is a recipe for ‘deadly theatre’, to borrow Peter Brook’s words, theatre that is boring for both actors and audiences. And here again, someone standing outside can see things and make suggestions about particular places in the text that you may not yet have thought about enough or regarding which you may not have found a way of bringing out what you sense is there. And here again, there were some very helpful suggestions made.

Finally, there is the very important matter of ‘corpsing’. ‘Corpsing’, in case you don’t know, is when an actor (or actors — it’s contagious) collapses in laughter before an audience. The most famous case of corpsing that I know of was that of Peter O’Toole in a bad and over-the-top production of the Scottish play at, as I recall, the Bristol Old Vic, oh, hundreds of years ago. One night, as he staggered on to an otherwise empty stage in the final scene, dripping with theatrical gore, from far, far away in the night outside the theatre could be heard the sound of an ambulance, and the sound was coming closer, and closer, and closer… Some less polite and less cultured members of the audience began to titter, and finally O’Toole could contain himself no longer… and as the ambulance swept up, howling, towards the theatre, Macbeth corpsed before he properly became a corpse…

Anyway, rehearsals allow you — I hope! — to get over corpsing. When you’ve corpsed enough in rehearsal, you should be able not to do it on stage. I hope I shall be able not to do it! It’s all Justin’s fault. When he comes on stage as an elderly gentleman, it is a mixture of his gait, his pronunciation of a certain word, and the expression on his face that makes me corpse. The gait reminds me of those stout, elderly, and constipated dogs that certain neighbours of mine take out for walks in the evening: they (the dogs) walk stiff-legged along and then stop, squat and strain, no good, and they walk a bit further and try again, while their anxious owners encourage them verbally and at length, and bring out quantities of tissue paper and plastic bags to back up their words… And then there is the pronunciation of the first syllable of the word ‘multitude’; Justin uses a vowel that I have never heard in any language that I know of. It is quite indescribable, I’m sure it doesn’t, it cannot, exist, but perhaps the nearest thing to the indescribable result is ‘meltitude’. It certainly makes me melt down meltitudinously.  And the expression on his face — the nearest thing to it, I think, is the expression you might see, if you are imaginative, on the face of an anxious shrew, or, now I think of it, on the faces of those neighbours of mine as they encourage their straining dogs, or perhaps on the faces of the dogs themselves…

But, alas, an afterword:  Justin, having read the foregoing, has (more or less) kindly informed me — we met to run lines today — that his facial expressions towards me are modelled on mine towards him; so that it is perhaps I who look like a tormented shrew or a constipated dog. I am more or less speechless…